I know about parents; I had such a rugged time with mine. Not just them, but also the siblings mired so deeply in the family diseases. God bless them. I’m glad I don’t have to walk in those shoes.
As I look back now, I see my poor parents were inundated. Hardly adults themselves, they had nothing to go on but what they learned as they went along. Growing up in houses filled with tension, strict religion, and inept personal relationships, they were hardly armed to deal with kids, work, house, and community. In essence, they repeated the patterns of abuse and belief they knew as children. It’s not that they lacked imagination. They possessed limited points of view.
After many years of being on the same path (I drank heavily from the time I was 13 until I was 27), I find I’m indebted to my parents. I learned a good deal from them about parenting. They gave me plenty of how-not-to-be lessons combined with positive, how-to-be ones. I learned from their use of the open hand and belt that people shouldn’t hit one another and, really, should allow their family members to explore and experiment. Control, I think, is best left to nuclear power plant operators.
I allowed Sydney, who has really been a contributor to my life and knowledge, room to move around without letting her run wild. When she was growing up, things were tough. In the years before I met and married Virginia, we had little money. But using my experience from childhood, we got on very well with little. I had to make do with what I had when I was a kid. I didn’t get new bikes or the latest toys. I still had fun and fashioned my own toys from what my dad had in the basement.
Sydney and I, in kind, did projects with paper and wood. We built popsicle houses. We took long walks and spent a lot of time in the park. A cardboard beer flat and little pieces of paper done in crayons formed our checkers game. One holiday season, we fashioned a Christmas tree from an old surveyor’s tripod my roommate had. We wrapped the tripod with aluminum foil and dressed it with a string of cheap lights. Handmade construction-paper ornaments and tape dressed the tree. Sydney still remembers that.
And still, financial stresses and overwork wore me thin. I wasn’t always the most understanding or patient parent. I often feel a stitch of pain when I remember yelling at Syd. It didn’t happen often, but it did slip in sometimes. With great determination, however, I understood my father’s frustrations and reactions to them and did everything I could to keep from following the same path. I tried to be close to but father-like with Sydney, without being distant. I tried to spend time with her, and even if I wasn’t perfect at it, she still talks to me.
We made the Christmas tree when she was just four years old. Last week, she turned 30. If I regret anything, it’s that I couldn’t slow time, that I mightn’t remember as much as I could have.
Even if I did lose my temper and acted rashly sometimes, I only ever spanked Sydney once. We were in the parking lot of a movie theater. I had taken her to see Bambi. It was a well-intended but bad move on my part. She was too young and couldn’t sit still in the theater. We left the place and were walking across the parking lot. But she kept wanting to run off, and the lot was full of speeding cars. I was fearful and anxious. She wouldn’t listen to me. I finally picked her up and gave her a firm pat on the tush. Just a little something to get her attention. I immediately regretted my action. But she stopped and started to pay attention to me. She didn’t cry. She just understood in her little-kid way that I meant business.
Outside that one instance, I never implemented any form of violence in dealing with Syd. Not a fist on the table. Not a stomp of the foot. Instead, I tried to be consistent and confident in myself, and always encouraged her and never treated her as a burden.
Family has brought me a great deal of joy. We are particularly suited to have Nick in our family (now fourteen years), Two sober parents, a 30 year old who has a level head and is fair to others, a 19 year old who is working and going to school and taking care of things around the house. We have a great deal to share and put to use our great store of love and understanding.
“Keep your chin high and take off your hat to no one,” I told my kids. They learned well. As I age and become more emotionally pliable, I have to say that to myself every day.
Some things I have learned:
1. When I am tired and overworked, I try to make sure I keep to one thing at a time. My job is to keep from being overwhelmed, as that is just the kind of situation that leads me to lose my cool. I try to understand that tired and overworked are temporary conditions, not permanent. With this in mind, I am usually able to find the energy to complete the task or put it down for another day.
2. When I am frightened or worried, I deal with whatever I am frightened of or worried about head on. I walk into the fear because the state of being worried, anxious, or scared is a whole lot less pleasant and productive than dealing with the situation and moving through it.
3. When I just don’t like what is happening, I take a deep breath and try to get a new look on it. If it is something I think is wrong, I will do my part of put an end to it. If I have had a part in the conflict, I try to resolve that.
4. When I am all of the above, I try to remember to step out and make sure I’m calm rather than reactive. I attempt to explain what my burden may be and, then, try to understand or get other family members to explain theirs, so we can get through the issue all together.
5. Violence is not tolerated.